Nashville Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette said the shutout loss to San Jose on Saturday left a bad taste in his mouth. That’s why he, and his players, were eager to retake the ice for a practice session prior to a home game on Tuesday.
The contest at Bridgestone Arena will be the club’s first at home in 10 days and final game at their own rink prior to a three-day Christmas break coming next week. The matchup on Tuesday against the Boston Bruins stands out not only as a top test against one of the NHL’s best clubs the past five seasons, but another chance for the Preds to prove their resiliency.
Following a loss this season, Nashville has won its next game every time.
“I don’t know if there’s a secret,” Laviolette said of not losing two games in a row. “We’ve got a hard-working group here that understands the recipe for success. When you start removing an ingredient or two, the recipe isn’t as good, and [the players] know that. We know exactly what we have to do on the ice, and I think our practice and the video backs that up. The results have followed our efforts when we play the right way.”
The Predators skated 45 minutes at Bridgestone on Monday, working on full-ice tandem rushes, offensive zone cycles and concluding with their usual 3-on-3 competition.
Nashville has essentially played their last five games without faceoff-ace Paul Gaustad (out due to a lower-body injury) and their performance at the dot has suffered for it. Considering how much the Predators system thrives on possession and high shot totals, losing the puck off a faceoff has been particularly frustrating.
The Preds team faceoff percentage has fallen to a combined 47.1 percent this season after five-straight games of winning less than half of their draws, including performances of 36 and 39 percent against Colorado and San Jose, respectively.
“Missing Gaustad has hurt, but honestly that’s something we’ve not been great at all year,” forward Eric Nystrom said. “Our team percentage hasn’t been great the whole season and that hurts our [offense]. To improve, we need centermen tying up if they aren’t winning them clean, wingers holding up and defensemen getting in there. It’s a group effort jumping on loose pucks to get them back.”
Even after the 3-0 win over the Coyotes on Tuesday, center Mike Ribeiro commented that the team’s winning percentage at the dot was an area needing dramatic improvement.
Veteran Olli Jokinen said on Monday that missing Gaustad has been a factor, but that the team can - and should - get better results with a whole-team effort between the circles.
“Winning faceoffs is huge, you want to start off the shift with the puck always,” Jokinen said “I think we’ve struggled a lot in the last little while with faceoffs. It’s not just the centermen who need to make things better, it’s all five guys. If we all work on winning them then we can save energy chasing the puck and start on the attack.
The road to improvement won’t come freely, however. The Predators will face a Bruins team sitting in the top four in the NHL in faceoff percentage at 52.9 percent on Tuesday.
“When you lose draws in the offensive zone and [our opponent] just goes behind the net and gets the puck out, it’s very frustrating because you’re chasing it back into your own end,” Nystrom said. “It’s the same thing in the defensive zone because then you’re talking about one or two shots against and some scoring chances. It’s a possession game and faceoffs are what dictate that, so you definitely want to win more than you lose.”
Stalberg at Practice:
Predators winger Viktor Stalberg, currently on injured reserve (IR) with a lower-body injury, joined the team for practice on Monday. The forward has skated alone the last few weeks but was a full participant in practice for the first time since injuring his knee in a game with the Milwaukee Admirals on Nov. 7.
Combos & Pairings:
Forwards Paul Gaustad and Taylor Beck skated on their own prior to practice on Monday, as both are still recovering from injury. For those skating in the practice session, the team’s line rushes featured the biggest changes seen in several weeks.
Forsberg - Ribeiro - Neal
Wilson - Fisher - Cullen
Roy - Jarnkrok - Smith
Nystrom - Jokinen - Bourque
Josi - Weber
Ekholm - Ellis
Volchenkov - Jones
Defenseman Roman Josi on the Boston Bruins:
“It’s nice to be home, we are playing well at home too so we’re comfortable playing at home. We’re excited for tomorrow night. We know Boston, and they have a good team every year so it’s going to be another tough test… We don’t see them that often but you obviously watch a couple games on TV and see them. They’re a hard-working team, they have some big guys and they play a physical game.
Olli Jokinen on the importance of Pekka Rinne to the Preds:
“He’s giving us a chance to win every night; he’s our best player and the best goalie in the League. Let’s use last game as an example, we have a chance in third period against San Jose because he kept us in the contest. He was the only reason why we were still in it. He’s been unbelievable for us and it gives us a lot of confidence.
Blueliner Mattias Ekholm on three days between games this week:
"Those few days will be important for getting our bodies ready for the few tough games before Christmas. Every game we’re out there is important to us. Even though we’ve played so well we’re in third place now [in the Central Division], so we’ve got to get back to playing at that highest level. We’ve got Chicago and St. Louis ahead of us so we can use those days to get fresh minds and maybe some special teams work before those three games in four nights."